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Old Yale
Secret Gardens

While the design of Yale’s Gothic and Colonial campus areas is credited mostly to the architects James Gamble Rogers, John Russell Pope, and William Adams Delano, another key contributor, Beatrix Farrand, is rarely mentioned. And yet Farrand’s work is hard to overlook.


Farrand selected plants that were seen to best advantage during the academic year.

Rated the finest female architect of her generation, Farrand, who was born Beatrix Jones Cadwalader in 1872, directed the landscape design and planting of Yale’s grounds as consulting landscape gardener to the University from 1922 to 1945. The niece of Edith Wharton and the “product of five generations of garden lovers,” the young woman began her education as a private student of Charles Sprague Sargent, the founder and director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. After a thorough study of horticulture and landscape design, Farrand completed her training in Europe and returned to New York in 1895 to start work. She quickly established herself professionally as a landscape gardener, a term she preferred to architect, with commissions in Tuxedo Park in New York and Mount Desert Island in Maine. She also caught the attention of the press who described the woman who always wore a bicycle suit for business as a “beauty of the majestic kind that defies description.”

In 1912, she began to design gardens for Princeton and there met a visiting Yale history professor, Max Farrand, whom she married in 1913. Farrand introduced his wife to Yale benefactor Edward S. Harkness, Class of 1897, and in 1918, Harkness put her in charge of planting the gardens at Eolia, his estate near New London (now Harkness Memorial State Park). In 1922 she embarked on her most famous private commission, the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. At the same time Harkness requested that she should design for Yale. This was the first time that the University had employed a woman in such a position of authority.

Beginning with the Memorial Quadrangle (now Branford and Saybrook colleges), Farrand developed a unique landscaping feature, the garden moat. In the walled spaces that were designed to safeguard basement windows, she set “a kind of planting that was protected from being trodden on and, at the same time, created a canopy for the sidewalk.” Her landscaping style combined formal and naturalistic elements, and she favored the use of native species. Working in cooperation with the botany department and the School of Forestry, Farrand selected plants that were seen to best advantage during the academic year, which at the time was from October to mid-June. In making her horticultural choices, she also took into consideration a plant’s winter appearance.

To obtain better value and variety she started a nursery in the fall of 1923 with 1,500 plants. This was the first time that this kind of operation had been undertaken on a university campus. The nursery occupied the greenhouse adjacent to Marsh Hall, the estate that Professor Othniel C. Marsh had bequeathed to the University for a botanic garden. On the grounds, she designed a garden modeled after the earliest botanic garden in Europe, which was in Padua.

Farrand envisioned the entire campus as a kind of botanic garden, or “outdoor museum,” and she landscaped all of the grounds of the new buildings including the residential colleges, the Divinity School, and the Medical School, as well as the garden of the President’s house. After her husband was appointed director of the Huntington Library in 1927, Farrand, who was awarded an honorary master’s degree in 1926, had to travel to Yale from their new home in California. And she faced another challenge during the Depression when Yale reduced her staff from 60 to 40.

In 1945, at the age of 73, Yale’s consulting landscape gardener retired and was not replaced. Since then, many of the magnificent magnolia, crabapple, viburnum, and dogwood trees and wisteria vines in the moats and courtyards have disappeared, especially in recent renovations. Still, some evidence of her planning vision remains. “The primary object,” Farrand wrote, “is to make the outward appearance and surroundings of the buildings an education for those who work and study in them. Surely the training of the eye to daily settings both beautiful and fit is as large a part of education as is the regular academic routine.”  the end


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